Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Dairy: Switching to zero meal strategy requires some smart planning

Members of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau Tour 2016 are pictured on a visit to the Dairygold Research farm in Kilworth, Co. Cork.
Members of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau Tour 2016 are pictured on a visit to the Dairygold Research farm in Kilworth, Co. Cork.

Mary Kinston

I have never seen a May like the one just gone by in Ireland. The tough spring is now a distant memory, and low cost milk is the order of the day, especially as AI draws to an end and a good number of farmers have stopped feeding meal to cows.

If grass quality is maintained, removing meal - depending on stocking rate, cow type and body condition score - can be a great move especially when it results in a maintenance of milk yield, butterfat and protein percentages.

Production from herds on zero meal feeding is ranging from 2 to 1.6kg/MS per cow. With most herds having fed up to 250-400kg meal per cow to date, zero meal feeding in summer will aid in cost control, which is a major positive given the low milk prices.

Spring meal feeding rates were significantly higher than 2015, and removing meal at this stage may be your best option if you are hoping to keep costs down.

Merchant credit to farms has also been rising throughout the spring. On the other hand, the ability to pay it off for many has been moving later by a few months compared to other seasons where milk price was higher or feeding rates were lower.

If you are giving zero meal feeding serious consideration, being on top of your game in terms of grass management will be an important step.

A cow being fed zero meal will need top quality pasture to maintain production levels and improved fat and protein percentages as the season progresses.

As grass growth has forged ahead in recent weeks, the removal of surpluses has been tricky in terms of decision-making, as the weather improved.

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However, the majority of paddocks are now being challenged by the rise of the seed head.


For those who have actively removed surpluses it may still require some active management or patience as you wait for the return of after-grass or pre-mowed/topped paddocks to hold the grass quality required.

Managing grass during periods of surpluses will always test your aptitude for grass management, and if you are not on top of it, some poorer quality pasture may be something you may have to endure.

So if you are transitioning to zero meal consider your grass position, though the potential for a only small loss may still negate the value of meal feeding.

Sometimes it's a bit of a "suck it up and see" scenario.

Personally I would sound a small word of warning towards pulling the meal if you have a spring calving herd which is presently constantly averaging greater than 2.1kg/MS per cow, as grass only mid-season may struggle to adequately feed them. While there are few predominantly grass-based herds falling into this category, the odd one does exist.

Give some thought too on replacing mineral supplementation where required if meal is removed although there are plenty of options to consider.

On a different note, a few weeks back, while at a local wedding I was asked to write again about the women in our lives, after a well received article I wrote a few years ago about silage time!

In our house we prepare ourselves in both mind and body to work through from February until the quieter period which falls from mid-June on.

As pointed out before, I do feel that while Father's Day is a just reward at this time for the men, the potential for some 'down time' on Mother's Day in mid-March is passed by due to the pressures of spring.

Maybe a 'Farmers Women's Day' should be initiated to remind the men in our lives to say a much appreciated thank you for our contribution big or small, and for the support our families and friends provide during this busy time.

Personally, I also have a lengthy thank you list to attend to, and one thing I know for sure is the reliance the majority of farms place on the support of their families. Either way, I hope the recent weeks at least gave you all the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with such glorious weather.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in County Kerry

Indo Farming